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If you’re looking to rent a villa in France, here is everything you need to know about about booking apartment rentals, finding the right holiday rental for you and tips on how make it affordable.
The Dream of a Renting a Villa in France
A soft light lingers over the Mediterranean. The scent of lavender fills the air. You’re sipping a glass of crisp rosé — who wouldn’t want to spend the summer in the South of France? Especially if it’s affordable.
For a rental vacation on a reasonable budget here are some words of advice: Be flexible. Plan early. Book now.
This type of DIY holiday takes preplanning, but the potential benefits of a vacation rental over a hotel are many:
- More privacy
- It’s easier to maintain sanitary protocols and social distancing
- Often you’ll have your own entrance
- It can be cheaper than a hotel
- You have kitchen facilities — another money saver
- Get the chance to live like a local
Where to Begin
Start by surfing the Internet. Scroll aimlessly and get ideas and build a wish list. You might even want to make a Pinterest dream board. Be aware that your dream and reality might not stay aligned as you learn about prices, availability and locations.
In your larger-than-life luxury travel dreams, you might want an entire chateau with ramparts and a spa butler – not to mention an infinity pool – but there are such things as budgets to think of. At some point you have to get realistic. In other words, ditch the butler and keep the pool.
How to Rent a Villa in France
Narrow Your Search
Renting a villa in France is not a specific enough goal. Even the South of France is a big place. Provence is popular for holiday rentals, but the first time my husband and I were planning a villa vacation my top choice was the French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur.
I wanted somewhere lazy and sophisticated, such as the coastal town of Antibes where Picasso painted his masterpieces in a studio in Grimaldi Castle.
I had my eye on Vence, a small hill town near Nice where Matisse once had a studio and where he designed the designed the lovely Chapelle du Rosaire.
Town, Country or City?
We wanted to stay just outside a town, but were also tempted by something urban and chic. In short, we wanted it all. We ended up dividing our stay, booking both a rural chateau and an apartment in the coastal city of Nice for a taste of two worlds.
(And then we rented in Paris, and then another time in Nice, and then Italy … once you’ve caught the vacation rental bug it only gets worse.)
Set a Budget
Who needs a $10,000 marble-floored villa? (Not that I’d mind.) With a rental budget of around $1,000 a week we still found a number of options.
Learn Vacation Rental Vocabulary
The words French villa may conjure dreamy visions of rose gardens and flagstone terraces but expanding your vocabulary to include gîtes (French holiday homes), vacation rentals, holiday flats and short term apartment rentals widens the field.
Or maybe the town of Cagnes-sur-Mar, home to Renoir; or – and this was still high on my list – the hilly town of Vence where Matisse designed the Chapelle du Rosaire.
Or, or, or … maybe we could rent a villa in St-Paul-de-Vence where many not-yet-famous-but-soon-would-be artists drank and bartered paintings for food at the Colombe d’Or.
Every little town in that gorgeous area of the South of France with its sparkling light seemed to have at least one resident Impressionist master or at the very least, a Cubist or two.
And art in the South of France is one of the highlights of renting a villa there. But where was our villa? Did anyone ever think to ask Renoir how he found his place? As I doubted the authorities were going to offer up Grimaldi Castle as they did with Picasso, it was back to the web.
And then Mark found our perfect French villa. Well maybe not the perfect one, because it wasn’t exactly in the Vence-Nice-Antibes chichi area I was hoping for. It was in Languedoc, which is technically still South of France but more wild and hilly. It wasn’t on the coast and more affordable than somewhere like Nice.
Divided into four apartments, this restored chateau was affordable and atmospheric, complete with tower, archways, outdoor pool and forest setting.
It was near St Jean du Gard, a small town on the banks of the River Gardon where Robert Louis Stevenson was heading in “Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.” Our villa was a 12th century chateau, or at least an apartment in the chateau. With a pool. And a pine forest. Even a river.
Renting a villa in France can mean renting a car
If your French villa is near a railway line like in Nice or Cannes, you won’t need a car. Our out of the way choice meant transportation was necessary. Since, unlike Robert Louis Stevenson we had no donkey, we had to rent a car.
That meant flying into Marseille and then driving into the hills in a strange country after a night of no sleep. And what are the rules about renting a car in France? Is it easy? What about insurance?
It turns out renting a car wasn’t so difficult. We checked out various agencies such as Hertz and Avis, chose the cheapest and reserved without even a deposit. When we arrived the car was waiting and our one mistake was not to have called our credit card company to find out what insurance we were covered for. So we ended up paying more than we needed. Call your credit card company beforehand when renting a car!
Don’t be afraid to change your vacation rental goals
We were dead set on renting a villa in France for a month, but then we thought of all the other places in the South of France we were going to be missing, so we decided to stay in the Cevennes for only two weeks.
Possibly the Cevennes would be too quiet we thought (actually, Mark thought that, because I wanted to be boring). I wanted to lie by the pool. Or make a salad. Or buy a baguette. But not much else. This was my vacation.
A vacation rental in Nice
For our second French villa rental we chose Nice, which is handy for the train and bus so we could visit Vence, Antibes, Cannes and all those other places I want to live in forever.
We wanted a place near the beach, or maybe in the Old Town, and two bathrooms and a balcony and well, I would have liked a pool as well. I know it was asking too much.
The thing is, I found the perfect place at a decent price but when I emailed the owner the price magically doubled. Sigh. I didn’t want to settle for anything less, but $3,000 a week was more than I can justify no matter how hard I try to delude myself.
Learn vacation rental lingo
I was getting dismayed, but once I figured out I should search for vacation rentals or gites, which is the term for holiday rental in French, suddenly there were a whole lot more choices in the swanky Riviera. The sites I used most were www.tripadvisor.com and www.holiday-rentals.co.uk, both of which have reader reviews.
This is probably the most important advice about renting a villa in France that I can give you. It’s also something Mark and I rarely do. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever searched for accommodation without typing in last minute availability into google.
But planning ahead in this case was actually fun, because it took the pressure off and meant there was a ton of availability out there. And that was a good thing, because the vacation rental apartment we finally chose in Nice was lovely. It was in the Musician’s quarter a few blocks from the beach. It was spacious and clean with high ceilings and it all worked out in the end.
How to pay for your vacation rental
One of the most important concerns when looking at how to rent a villa in France is how not to get ripped off. But you need to pay somehow. Every vacation rental has a preferred manner of payment and each takes a leap of faith.
(In fact, my bank teller tried to talk me out of sending a hefty money order overseas, convinced it was some kind of scam. Happily, it wasn’t.)
Generally, you’ll need to send a deposit by PayPal, bank transfer or money order. With some properties, full payment is due on a specified date.
Others (most) prefer cash on arrival, so be prepared to draw out Euros at the airport, and be aware that there is a daily limit to how much you can withdraw so you may need to get your Euros from the bank before you go. You may need to pay a security deposit.
Avoiding vacation rental scams
Ask friends for referrals, look for popular websites with traveller reviews and talk with the owners or managers by email or phone before you commit.
Fortunately, the properties we chose were well-maintained, the owners gracious and we ended up with enough memories, adventures and photos to bore our friends for years.
Renting a villa in France, or two of them, was our dream, and it can easily be yours.
There is more to renting a vacation rental than you might expect. For more tips go to my France travel blog post Budget tips for French vacation rentals
Read more on the sexy South of France: Visit my travel blog post Things to do do in the South of France for ideas about where to go, what to see and what do once you’re there.